July 09 2015


Asbestos can be defined as the fibrous form of mineral silicates that includes amosite (brown asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos), chrysotile (white asbestos) or any other material containing one or more of those minerals.

Asbestos is a hazardous material that poses a risk to health by inhalation if the asbestos fibres become airborne and people are exposed to these airborne fibres.

Where one of the above forms is identified in a workplace it must be reported using some method of internal reporting such as a hazard report form, and a documented assessment of the risks arising from working in that area should be immediately conducted.

Generally, workers are not permitted to remove, cut or tamper with any asbestos or asbestos product as this potentially causes the release of fibres, which can enter the lungs. Exposure to asbestos over the years has been linked to diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Asbestos was used in various common building materials such as insulation, cold water storage tanks, external rainwater pipes and guttering, facia boards, pipes and pipe lagging, flooring, in ground service pits, brakes, fencing and electrical switchboards.

If / when identified at any workplace, a person with management or control of that workplace, must ensure that an Asbestos register is prepared and kept ta the workplace. The Asbestos register must be maintained to ensure the information within the register is up to date.

While many domestic premises contain asbestos-containing materials (ACM), they are unlikely to have a register of ACM. Precautions must be taken before work begins to identify the likelihood that ACM is present. If a building was constructed prior to the 1980’s, it is almost certain to contain asbestos building materials.

Risk Assessment

If it is likely that working near asbestos containing materials / products may result in damage and therefore potentially cause the release of fibres, the work must not proceed. A documented risk assessment must be compiled and the assessment is to include:

  • Information regarding the type and application of the asbestos.
  • Positive identification of Asbestos (generally must be done by a laboratory).
  • Identification of alternative work procedures to eliminate the need to work near the asbestos.
  • The amount of time required in work area.
  • Consideration of the effect of heat and/or, a lack of ventilation.
  • Following a safe work procedures.
  • Maintenance of a high standard of personal hygiene and supply, correct use of PPE.
  • The training requirements for personnel.
  • Facilities for wash down before removing protective clothing.
  • Disposal of contaminated protective clothing and equipment.

Removal of Asbestos

The removal of asbestos building materials from a site must be completed in accordance with strict safety procedures, which require full disposable overalls, gloves, eye and appropriate respiratory protection. The material must be wrapped in industrial grade black plastic & disposed of at a designated disposal site.

Where the amount of Asbestos containing material exceeds 10m2, it is a requirement that a licences Asbestos removal contractor is engaged to carry out this task and an Asbestos Management Plan is prepared for the site.

Further information on asbestos & suitable respiratory protection for higher risk work can be found in the WA Code of Practice Safe Removal of Asbestos and WA Code of Practice for the Management and Control of Asbestos in Workplaces.

Using the hierarchy of control, the best way of managing safety with regards to Asbestos is to eliminate the hazard. It is recommended that where practicable, any ACM be removed from the site by a licenced contractor and replaced with a lesser hazardous material.

The benefits of this are threefold:

  • The hazard is removed by a competent contractor, eliminating the exposure of the hazard to you and your workers,
  • The hazard is removed from the premises, therefore eliminating the hazard to the occupant or your client,
  • If industry was to implement this methodology across the board, the hazard would eventually be eliminated for future generations of plumbers (and other tradesmen).

Asbestos containing products are likely to be encountered on a regular basis, dependent upon your company scope of works. History tells us that the risks involved with this product are serious and illnesses have a very protracted incubation rate (approximately 30 years), meaning exposure today may show no signs of consequence for a long period of time.

For more information on this topic or to book an appointment to discuss any other WHS inquiry, please do not hesitate to contact the team at Safety Solutions WA.